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when it doesn’t make sense.

The thing about PTSD is that is doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense.

I’ll tell you when PTSD does make sense. It makes sense when it looks like the guy who served two tours in Iraq and sits in my office, one of my first patients. I’m so fresh out of grad school I’m practically dragging my placenta behind me and here’s this twenty-three year old man telling me about how he had to kill everyone. “I don’t think you understand,” he says, looking at me and through me at the same time. “I had to kill everyone. A school bus full of kids…” He doesn’t finish his sentence. Now he can’t go on a date, go to a shopping mall. That’s when PTSD makes sense.

I’ll tell you when PTSD does make sense. It makes sense when I’m seeing my last patient of the day and I’m tired, but I summon enough energy to smile brightly as she sits down. The last of the day’s light spills in through the window, making bars on the floor through the blinds. She’s a rape victim, so affected by something that happened two years ago that she’s paralyzed. She can’t move forward. I’ve seen seven patients today and she is my eighth but suddenly I’m filled with a supernatural burst of determination. I tell her it’s going to be okay, that she’s stuck, but she won’t be forever. That we’re going to get her out. That’s when PTSD makes sense.

I’ll tell you when PTSD doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense when I’m home from work making dinner, eyeing the pack of cigarettes in my purse. It’s Tuesday, and since Saturday, it’s felt like there’s speed in my veins, although I couldn’t tell you why. At least not at the moment I’m picking up the avocado. All I can tell you is the moment I’m picking up the avocado is how good a cigarette is when I’m anxious. I know it’s a bad habit, and I know they cause cancer, but when my hands have been trembling for three days and I can’t will them to be still, a cigarette is good. I slice through the avocado, and the moment I’m slicing through the avocado I can tell you exactly why it’s felt like there’s been speed in my veins since Saturday. My ears buzz so loudly I clutch the sides of my head.

Saturday night there was a party, and at the party was a couple. Newly married, seemingly happy, but I’m too smart for that. I study people for a living and I can see straight through their brand new gold bands. I’ve been trained to see through things. You might think it was in grad school, where I read textbooks on human behavior, but that’s only part of it. I learned to study people a long time ago when I learned that some people don’t mean what they say.

For example, someone might say I will make you the happiest woman in the world, but they might not mean that. What they might mean instead is I’m too scared to do what it takes to make you happy but I’m going to hide that from you for the time being. It’s okay. It’s probably not entirely their fault. They probably don’t know what they actually mean to say either.

So I’m watching this couple, and the subject of her ex comes up, and she shrugs and laughs, and a dark cloud goes over the face of her husband. He grits his teeth and says something only she can hear, but I can hear it too. I can hear it in the way her face falls, in the way the shame rises to her cheeks. The way he says loudly “he’s nothing to follow up,” spitting out the words like venom. The way the rage and jealousy is so deafeningly loud and yet so piercingly quiet.

I observed that on Saturday, and felt sick for the rest of the party, which I chalked up to eating some of the dip that had been sitting out too long. I felt sick the next day too, blaming it on the late night and shitty sleep. On Monday, I felt sick and blamed it on, well, Monday. I drank three beers and smoked seven cigarettes and felt sick. Which I blamed on the beer and cigarettes.

Tuesday I felt sick, and cancelled my first patient. Then I willed myself out of bed and saw the rest of my patients, and did good work with each of them. Work that I’m proud of. I was only able to do the work by reaching inside my brain and turning down the volume of my own anxiety, and turning up the volume of my abilities as a counselor. It’s a trick I learned early on, and without it I would be very unemployed.

But when I left the office, the volume to my anxiety came back up, and it wouldn’t be quieted. Not after a cigarette, or a Taylor Swift song, or a call to my sister. I felt it as I bought items to make dinner – tortillas, avocados – and when I started making tacos. You know, it being Tuesday and all.

As the knife sliced through the avocado, I knew exactly why the volume knob to my anxiety was all the way up. I clutched the sides of my head and remembered, like it was yesterday, even though it was nearly ten years ago.

I was a newlywed, at a party with my shiny new ring and shiny new husband. Everything looked just right, all smiles and cheek kisses. He loved to show me off.

A friend of mine from out of town was there, and another friend of a friend had shown up, in hopes they might be a match. I stood between the two of them, trying to find ways to help them stick.

My friend turned to get herself another drink and the music was so loud. The guy leaned in to ask me about her – what her family was like, or something. Even yelling right in each others ears we could barely hear each other.

I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly I was being dragged away from my friend and the guy.

HOW DARE YOU, my husband snarled at me through gritted teeth. How dare you embarrass me like this, by flirting with someone right in front of me.

Shame rose to my cheeks and I could feel the tears beginning to form. My friend followed me to the bathroom and we sat on the floor of one of the stalls, trying to figure out what had happened.

“You know, if you want to leave him, you can live with me. I’ll always be there for you,” she said as we leaned against each other. The tile was cold and I briefly thought about how dirty it must be, but then decided I didn’t care. A couple of tequila shots probably helped with that.

I could hear other girls in the bathroom, laughing about the evening. They hadn’t made fools of themselves. They were allowed to have fun. They hadn’t acted like whores and embarrassed their husbands.

That night, he wanted sex. And because I was a whore, I said okay. He forced himself into me and it hurt so much I cried. It was my fault. I deserved it. I really hoped I had learned my lesson, just like I knew on Saturday that the girl at the party hoped the same thing.

And that’s when PTSD doesn’t make sense.

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movement.

📷: 03.04.17 - Marfa, Texas

You know that squeaky sound a wine cork makes when you’re trying to pry it out of the bottle but you, I don’t know, didn’t put the corkscrew in correctly or far enough or whatever? That’s me right now. I’m making that squeaky sound. 

I’ve been creatively blocked for what feels like months now. Earlier this year, I spent five days at an ashram, right before my thirty-first birthday. My primary goal of going on this retreat was to work on my spirituality, since I was (and am) rather unsure of what to do next in that area of my life. The experience was enormous – I handed over my iPhone and spent five days meditating, resting, reading, writing, and focusing on some difficult and incredible things. For me, it’s hard to talk about spirituality – that word has so much history for me, grounded in anger and hurt and fear. Over those five days, I was able to reconnect with something inside of me that I thought was long dead or gone or had maybe never existed. Which was wonderful. Astounding. But also scary as hell.

Immediately following my stay at the ashram, I went to Marfa with my partner (which was an amazing trip, 10/10 highly recommend). When I finally got home after about ten days away from my everyday routine, I had a lot of catching up to do, so I plunged myself into my work and haven’t really come up for air since. Part of me wants to blame that on my job – I’m in private practice, and it’s challenging, and it demands a lot of my attention. But I also know that if I’m honest with myself, that’s only part of it. The other, bigger part of it is that I’m stuck. Paralyzed by whatever you want to call it (let’s call it terror and anxiety), I haven’t moved forward spiritually or creatively since.

On New Year’s Eve, while we were visiting a small coastal town in south Texas, my partner proposed to me. It was a simple little proposal followed by two of my favorite things in life: crab legs and karaoke. We happened upon the karaoke bar by accident, but ended up making friends with everyone (I may or may not have sang a dazzling rendition of Strawberry Wine). At some point during the course of all the excitement, between the happy new years and the congratulations on your engagement, a psychic came up to me. I didn’t know she was a psychic at first, not until she grasped both my hands and started telling me about myself. She said a lot of things that I can’t chalk up to coincidence, but the last thing she said to me resonated the most. “Your career is taking off,” she said, still holding my hands, looking at me so directly it was almost uncomfortable. “There’s nothing you can’t do, but you have to stop holding yourself back because of fear.” Then she gave me a hug, and I noticed she was wearing the exact same perfume my mom has worn for years.

I recently had my first session with a hypnotherapist who does intuitive counseling, and one of the first things she said to me was “you’re all clogged up!” I’m very much looking forward to my work with her, and as a bold move towards what I hope will be more writing and creative projects, I dusted off the ole website last night and gave her a facelift. More on the hypnotherapy later.

And so I’ll keep working at the bottle, believing the day will come when I hear the familiar pop! and the wine will flow freely – to be savored alone, to be shared with friends, to be made into a mushroom bolognese. Here’s to moving forward despite fear and getting rid of whatever is holding me back. I’m still wriggling that squeaky cork around, but for the first time in a great while, I think I’m finally starting to feel some movement. 🔳

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let’s talk about meds.

“How long have you been experiencing symptoms of depression?” the doctor asks, and I laugh awkwardly. Not because it’s funny, but because I can’t remember.

“Since high school. Maybe before,” I answer, trying not to think about all the hours I have spent feeling depressed. Fifteen years is a long time. He scribbles in my chart.

About a year ago, I started taking an antidepressant. Until then, I had been terrified of meds, even when my first therapist told me she thought I needed them. At the time, I was twenty-two, unhappily married, and more depressed than I had ever been.

“Depression without medication is like cleaning your house with a ball and chain on your ankle,” she said softly, knowing I was afraid. “When you take medication, you still have to clean the house, but without the ball and chain.”

Even with that analogy, I saw medication as a sign of weakness. Depression wasn’t a chemical imbalance, it was the result of a disorderly life. If I could get my marriage, my career, and my writing in order, I would be happy. It was my fault I felt this way. Medication was a cop-out and proved how weak I was against the symptoms of my depression.

“I want to feel what I’m going through,” I told her, believing I deserved every terrible feeling. She didn’t bring up medication again. I saw her weekly for almost two years. Talk therapy helped, but the intense symptoms of my depression remained. Sometimes the tools I learned through therapy helped, but on my worst days, I didn’t stand a chance.

Fast-forward to last summer. I could feel myself spiraling, but now I couldn’t point my finger to unhappy life circumstances. Since my two years of therapy, I had gone back to school for mental health counseling and had learned many additional therapy skills. I had also left my marriage, graduated, gotten a decent job, and was in a happy, healthy relationship in which we were planning for our future. Even still, I needed additional help. Almost seven years after my first therapy appointment, I agreed to try medication.

I started taking Wellbutrin because a friend of mine had good response with it. “I didn’t have many side effects,” she told me. “I just felt stable.” That sounded great, so I got a prescription and had it filled.

The first week or so on Wellbutrin was a blur. We were in the process of moving from Louisiana to Texas, and I felt a little like I was on speed. Wellbutrin contains a stimulant, so it’s different from other antidepressants in that way. I found I couldn’t drink too much coffee or alcohol, because both brought horrible side effects when combined with the medication. I was clenching my teeth and shaking my leg a lot more, but I also wasn’t coming straight home from work and crawling into bed or spending three hours in the bathtub crying, so I accepted the side effects. Eventually, I got used to it and the effects lessened. It helped for a while.

A couple of months ago, I found myself spiraling again. I was now living in a beautiful apartment, in the city I’d always dreamed about, with a man who loved and supported me. I had finally received my LPC license, which was a huge professional step, and had a great job at a private practice. So why was I feeling out of control? Why was I sobbing uncontrollably and having daily anxiety attacks and passive suicidal thoughts? Why was I feeling like there was a crushing weight on my chest that wouldn’t go away no matter how much self-care I attempted?

I talked to my psychologist about a med change, and he agreed. In the state of Texas, he is unable to prescribe, but is extremely knowledgeable about medication. We spent the better part of two sessions talking about med options, and I did my own research as well. He wrote a letter to my prescribing doctor, who wrote me a prescription for Lexapro.

I’ve been taking Lexapro for two weeks now, and to be quite honest, it’s been terrible. Usually, medication takes about a month to fully take effect, so I’m waiting for that. I haven’t been feeling as anxious, and I certainly haven’t been feeling as depressed — I haven’t been feeling much of anything. This is common with SSRIs, or so I’ve been told. I’m sleeping better, almost too well, but not doing much of anything otherwise. I put all of my energy into my work with my clients, and have very little to spare at home. I have more mental clarity and am able to think externally, but am having a hard time processing how I feel internally.

In my personal life and in my work, I have seen time and again how necessary these medications are, despite their side effects. The stigma of mental health treatment is slowly shrinking, largely in part due to people being more vocal about the treatment they are receiving.

An important thing to remember is that medication is not enough by itself. Regular talk therapy and a personalized self-care regime is as important as finding the right medication. Having a good support system is also invaluable, and I don’t know where I would be without my friends and my supportive partner. Talking about medication — what’s working, what’s not, what you like, and what you don’t — are all critical parts of finding the right medication. I have clients who will go months and even years on the wrong medication because they’re convinced that they’re the problem — or they don’t want to complain, again, and ask for yet another med change. But that’s the thing about meds. What works now might not work later, and it’s important to do regular check-ins with yourself and your symptoms.

My experience with medication has proved to be challenging, but not as terrifying as I originally thought. With the right professionals and support systems, a hefty dose of self empowerment, and finally, the assistance of modern medicine, I am confident I am getting the help I need.

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putting the pieces together.

laurenhasha.com

Last month, I wrote two articles for Greatist, one about domestic violence and abuse, and one about supporting a partner dealing with depression. I got great feedback from both, but the emails I received in response to the domestic violence piece were overwhelming. As I read words like “thank you for letting me know I’m not alone” and “thank you for helping me realize the abuse is not my fault,” I realized the importance of sharing my story.

I started writing a book earlier this year, right before I turned thirty. The weight of the past decade was heavy on my mind, a blur of the things that happened to me from ages twenty to thirty. My idea was to write three vignettes from each of the ten years, totaling thirty chapters altogether. They would be carefully curated pieces of my experiences in college and with writing, depression, marriage, and divorce. Snapshots, but not the whole picture. I thought that maybe I would touch on the abuse, but it wouldn’t be the focus.

After writing an outline and some notes, I was unable to move further than a few chapters. In hopes of finding renewed inspiration, I decided to table the book for a few months and work on smaller projects, like the articles. I had no idea that writing a short piece on abuse would have such a tremendous impact on me.

Writing about abuse is challenging. Victims are questioned, blamed, and doubted. Daily, in my work as a mental health counselor, I see victims of every kind of abuse. They have remained silent for years, carrying shame, guilt, and endless pain.

A common response to a traumatic event is to try and forget it ever happened. We don’t want to talk about it, we want to move on. When thoughts, feelings, and situations remind us of past trauma, we learn to be afraid of them and to run from them. These are our triggers.

A traumatic event is like a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds or thousands of pieces. When we avoid thinking about what happened, it results in a fragmented view of the event and a lack of awareness. When we encounter and are unable to avoid our triggers, we feel intense fear and a loss of control.

I was recently working with a patient who is also a writer, recommending that she write her way through her experience as a form of prolonged exposure therapy. “Write down every detail you can remember,” I told her. “What it sounded like, smelled like, felt like, looked like. Write it all down.” As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew what I needed to do.

It can be a scary thought, the idea of sitting down and putting all those pieces together. Touching each one, remembering it, reliving it. But when we do this, we get a clearer picture of what happened. We can’t change the event, but we can gain a stronger sense of awareness and control. We can learn ways to relax when we feel overwhelmed. Once all of the pieces are together, we see important details we may not have noticed before.

Last week, I saw my therapist for the first time in months. The work we did in session was difficult, but I left feeling motivated and energized to start writing again. At twenty years old, while getting a degree in English and creative writing and watching Sex and the City like it was my job, I dreamed of the first book I would write. I had no idea that it would take over ten years of experiences. I had no idea that it would look like this.

After trying to forget, and trying to write something else, I keep coming back to this place. There is a reason for this, a purpose for my story, despite my fear and avoidance. It’s time to process and heal. It’s time to write my way through it until all the pieces are together.

creative process.

I’ve been writing a lot lately, and thinking about writing even more than that.

(Honestly, if I wrote as much as I thought about writing, I’d have written a set of encyclopedias by now.)

In addition to writing, I’ve been editing some of my older stuff, and submitting these old and new and old-to-new pieces to websites. (I had a piece published at Thought Catalog recently, and that was exciting.) I’ve been applying for jobs, too. Some counseling jobs, some writing and editing jobs. I’m at this place where I’m trying to figure out where I’m headed next. Trying to figure out how much of my life is devoted to counseling, how much is devoted to writing, and when those paths cross. It’s a pretty cool place to be. Terrifying at times, but awesome.

I just submitted my paperwork to the board for full licensure, and should be a Licensed Professional Counselor in a matter of weeks. That’s a strange feeling, that something that I’ve been working on for the better part of FOUR years is finally complete. It doesn’t feel quite real, yet. Maybe once I have the license in hand.

I’ve also been wondering what to do with this space. I want to write here, but I also want to submit the things I write to other places. I do want to have a place that’s all my own, but I don’t want to have it simply for the sake of filling a space.

A lot of the time, when I’m thinking about writing, I’m thinking about the crazy process of writing. My process is so weird. I love reading about the processes of other writers and creatives. It’s interesting. We’re all different but very much the same.

I’ve found that my best process is writing furiously, without thinking much about it. Letting my fingers fly across the keyboard without worrying about repeating words or creating run-on sentences. Then, I leave it alone for a little while — maybe for a few hours, or a few days. This prevents me from butchering it initially. For some reason, when I come back to it, I’m able to appreciate it, and edit it more kindly. If I sit there too long, telling myself it has to be done now! It must be perfected now! I end up slicing and dicing, and changing things that didn’t need to be changed. Sometimes walking away — for a nap, a walk, a meal, a glass of wine, a cup of tea — is the best thing to happen to my writing.

Other times, of course, the best course of action is to hammer it out, edit it as much as I can before my eyes cross, and press “send” or “submit” or “publish.” Like I said in my last post, sooner or later, we have to realize that it’s fine, it’s good enough, and it’s time to move onto the next thing.

The best part about writing, and the process of writing, is that it’s different for everyone. I don’t like books about writing or creativity that say IT MUST BE DONE THIS WAY! THIS IS THE MAGICAL FORMULA! How is that possible, when we are all so different? Right now, I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. She’s talking about writing, and teaching writing, and she says “This is not like other writing books, some of which are terrific. It’s more personal, more like my classes. As of today, here is almost every single thing I know about writing.” What I like about that is 1) she’s implying that there’s more to know, because there’s always more to know, and 2) she’s saying that this is her personal experience.

I think that, too often, we forget about the importance of personal experience. Even if I wanted to write exactly like Nora Ephron — because, dear God, I do — I can’t. Because I’m not Nora. But I can write like Lauren. It’s like when people tell me “Oh, I love your hair! What do you do to it?” What they’re asking is “how can I recreate your hair on my head?” And my answer is some variation of listen, my hair is a hot mess and I have learned to work with it. I wash it once a week, rarely brush it, and it’s usually 80% dry shampoo. This doesn’t necessarily mean your hair will do the same thing, nor do you want it to. It’s the same idea as when I used to take photos of celebrities to my hair stylist and say “Can you give me this EXACT hair…and, while you’re at it, this bone structure, too?” You have to know your strengths and what you’re capable of. You might not have Jennifer Aniston’s hair, but you learn to work with what you do have. And that can turn into something pretty great, something all its own.

So maybe I will use this space to talk about the process, to bounce around ideas and inspiration. If you’re in the creative trenches with me, I hope you comment or send me an email. It’s a tough world out there for creatives, and we’ve got to stick together.

good enough.

wine_lhSomething that’s been part of my recent education, my creative recovery, is the idea of “good enough.” This speaks deeply to the perfectionist in me. 30 years later, she is so very tired.

It’s like this website. I don’t know much about coding, but I’ve managed to slap together something that doesn’t look terrible. Part of me wants to keep going, to keep tweaking, until I feel my website is perfect. That’s the shiny-haired part of me, the part that doesn’t go to the store without makeup on, who doesn’t talk openly about the problems in her life because she has an image to uphold.

And then there’s the frizzy-haired side of me, the one who says dammit Lauren, my eyes are going crossed, and I want to watch Fuller House. Leave it. It’s good enough

I never used to listen to that part of me. Probably because she looks like a hot mess and desperately needs to pluck her eyebrows.

“A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” ―Paul Gardner

But you know what? The older I get, the more I like that frizzy lady. She’s salty. She doesn’t take nonsense from others — because she knows she’s worth more. She knows that her value doesn’t come from being good at everything. That it’s not her job to be flawless. (That’s what they pay Gwenyth Paltrow for.) That when you put in work, the result is often not perfect, but it’s good enough.

It’s like that with writing. Whether it’s this post or the fifth chapter of my book — which I was just working on, and agonizing over. The problem with that is before you know it, you’re like this is bad, my work is bad, my book is going to be terrible…and then you never finish it.

Elizabeth Gilbert quotes her mother when she says “Done is better than good.” And oh, how my shiny-haired lady squirms at that statement. How could you possibly put something into the world that isn’t GOOD, let alone PERFECT? Aren’t we supposed to DO OUR BEST?

Yes, of course. We must do our best. But we must also not agonize over all the tiny details until our eyeballs fall out from under our eyebrows, however groomed or ungroomed they may be. Because you know what happens to work like that? It never gets done. It gets picked over, and criticized within an inch of its life, and by the time that process is over it doesn’t have the backbone or the grit to stand up to anything. So it goes into a shoebox or a deep dark computer folder and never sees the light of day.

I have far too much work that’s suffered that scrutiny.

Paul Gardner said “A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places.” Sooner or later, you have to realize that it’s fine, it’s good enough, and it’s time to move onto the next thing.

I had a long talk with my dad the other day about careers and life’s work. We agreed that you can work on the same thing until you die, saying “oh, I could do just a little bit more.” But by the end of that, you may be so burned out on the thing that you forget why you started, you forget the joy that the work originally brought you. You didn’t stop in that interesting place where you knew to stop.

The alternative to that is that you stop at that interesting place, and then you get to keep the joy that the work brought you AND start new work that will bring you a different kind of joy.

Do that instead.

Because either way, it’s done. Which means you get to do the next thing. Like watch Fuller House.